Chuck Porter, B.A., '67, was set to start a legal career (twice) before he jumped ship in law school to put his quick wit and way with words to work in advertising. After 16 years as a freelance copywriter he joined a feisty Miami creative shop in the late 1980s that became Crispin Porter + Bogusky, one of the most successful and sought-after advertising agencies of the last decade, where he is now chairman. Porter, a Presidents Club member who funds a student award in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, returns often to his home state, most recently to receive an Award for Excellence from the School of Journalism and Mass Communication Alumni Society Board and the school.
Congrats on the alumni award.
Isn't that sweet? It's a wonderful honor. Minnesota and the University of Minnesota have produced a lot of well-known, successful advertising people, so it's very surprising they would give it to me. Maybe they've been reading stuff I haven't.
You've also been named the ad exec of the decade by Adweek readers ...
Yeah, the decade ... Wow. Agency peer awards are humbling and wonderful to get, but you can't pay very much attention to them because the business is new every day. You never are who you were yesterday; as soon as you start thinking that way, you're in trouble.
What's the most outrageous idea you've been a part of
at the agency?
We've done some pretty interesting things. I can't talk about the most outrageous, because I'd probably go to jail, so I'll talk about the most daring. We created an anti-teen smoking brand called Truth around the time of the big tobacco settlements in the 1990s. One of teenagers' fundamental motivations is to rebel, and they essentially want to rebel against white guys in blue suits, so we decided to set up the tobacco executives as people they can rebel against--because they were marketing a product that will kill these kids. We took on big tobacco in a very aggressive way. People got sued. But it was enormously successful. For the nine years we handled it, middle-school smoking was down 50 percent, and high school smoking was down 26 percent. But it was scary at times. They are very big, very powerful companies, and there was a lot of money at stake. We took them on, and they hated us a lot for it.
Where do your best creative ideas come from?
I don't know. A long time ago a reporter asked Bob Dylan what his songs were about, and he said, "Some are about four minutes and some are about five," which is kind of the way I feel about creativity. What I do think is that it's very hard to teach someone to be good at it. I think you can teach someone to be competent, but I think the people who are really good at it are just really good at it. I could spend 50 years at Julliard and I still couldn't play the piano, 'cause whatever that is, I don't have it.
Do you still do some writing now and then?
Once in awhile I'll do some pro bono stuff. I don't really work on advertising campaigns anymore because I think you have to do it every day to really be prolific. I've learned to let the people I put my faith in do their work. We hire the smartest, best, most curious, most passionate, most talented people we can find and then get out of the way.
Why did you start the award for U of M advertising students?
I just thought it would be cool. I've had a chance to meet a few of the students, and that's been great. I've been very, very lucky and have had some financial success. This is definitely one of the institutions I believe in and want to support. I spent a lot of great years here. I'm still very connected to this part of the world and to this school. I'm even a football fan again.
Have you been to TCF Bank Stadium?
All the years the Gophers played in the Dome I never went to a game. Then one of my friends I went to school with, who is a big Gopher supporter, said, "You gotta come see this new stadium. I'll give you tickets for opening day." So I came up last fall for the first game and it was so great, the stadium was so beautiful. It was like the old days of Memorial Stadium. I fell in love with it and went to four more games. Where I sit, which is where a lot of alumni sit, at least half the people are older than me, so I like that part too.